Gates, Bezos-backed Alzheimer's accelerator issues first diagnostic development awards

The Alzheimer's disease accelerator sent out an additional request for proposals for digital tests and biomarkers this April and plans to issue those awards before the end of the year. (Alan Wu/Flickr)

The Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) has selected the first four research ideas to be funded through its Diagnostics Accelerator program aimed at developing new tools and biomarkers for the disease and its related dementias.

Backed by some of the richest people in the world—including Bill Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos and ADDF co-founder Leonard Lauder—the accelerator program plans to award up to $50 million over the next three years. It expects to spend up to $10 million this year on at least 10 projects, with the first four totaling up to about $3.5 million.

The accelerator sent out an additional request for proposals for digital tests and biomarkers this April and plans to issue those awards before the end of the year. The first set of awardees focuses on cheaper, scalable diagnostics such as blood tests and eye scans.

"Unlike heart disease and cancer, we lack simple and cost-effective diagnostic tools and biomarkers that are critical to finding ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease,” Howard Fillit, the foundation’s executive director and chief science officer, said in a statement.

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“Once we have them, we will better understand how Alzheimer's progresses and make clinical drug trials more efficient and rigorous," Fillit said.

The projects include a grant of up to $2 million to Amoneta Diagnostics and its chief scientific officer, Saliha Moussaoui. Amoneta based in France, just north of Basel, Switzerland, is developing a liquid biopsy to predict mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s, by measuring two types of RNAs that are stable in the bloodstream.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden working under Professor Kaj Blennow will receive $500,000 for their work on a blood test aimed at detecting brain-derived tau protein fragments similar to the ones found in the cerebrospinal fluid.  

RELATED: Bill Gates and others launch $30M 'venture philanthropy' accelerator for Alzheimer’s diagnostics

University of Edinburgh research fellow Tom MacGillivray and his lab, meanwhile, will get nearly $490,000 to develop their retinal biomarkers to help track neurodegeneration and changes in the eye’s vasculature, using a cloud-based system for analyzing images.

Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden of the Centre for Eye Research Australia, through the University of Melbourne, will get just over $420,000 to examine a simplified eye scan to detect amyloid in the retina ahead of cognitive decline. His team is also developing a more portable and inexpensive camera that aims to replace PET imaging or invasive fluid tests and biopsies.

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